Interactive: Visualizing China’s Massive Corruption Crackdown
A new tool shows how much was stolen, who's connected to whom, and where 1,500 of China's corrupt officials were caught.
Corruption is a long festering canker on both the work and popular reputation of China’s Communist Party, and one that Chinese President Xi Jinping’s predecessors also sought to combat. But Xi has undertaken the task with unprecedented zeal and acumen. Scything through the Chinese Communist Party’s cadre ranks, Xi’s deputies — most prominent among them the Politburo Standing Committee member Wang Qishan and the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) which he commands — have felled officials of both high and low rank, or as Xi himself put it in a memorable phrase, both “tigers and flies.” To date, tens of thousands have been swept out of office. Whether their fortunes have suffered primarily because of their corrupt acts — or rather, as many both inside and outside of China argue — as a direct or indirect result of Xi’s consolidation of power remains, nearly three years into Xi’s tenure, an open and hotly debated question. Information about targets of the campaign abounds, but so too do speculation and rumor.
Meanwhile, the campaign continues. Just last week, the CCDI released a communiqué promising to maintain “unabated forces and unchanging rhythm” in pursuing the goal of a China where, as Xi put it, officials are “unable and unwilling to engage in corruption.”
The interactive dataset below, “Catching Tigers and Flies,” is produced by ChinaFile and designed to give users a sense of the scope and character of the anti-corruption campaign by graphically rendering information about nearly 1,500 of its targets whose cases have been publically announced either by the CCDI, its official media partners, or related Chinese government organs. Because the database is confined to figures whose cases have been announced by official Chinese sources, it does not include some highly probable targets of the campaign whose cases have been reported widely by reputable media organizations both inside and outside of China. The tool is below:
The cases tracked span the period from January 1, 2010 to the present. About a hundred individuals in the database were under investigation for corruption before Xi’s rise to power, but the vast majority have fallen as a result of the campaign.
- Of the 1,460 felled, the vast majority are officials at the local and provincial level. Officials can be sorted among the fields of mining, petroleum, law and law enforcement, media, military, real estate, and rail. But there are also sizeable groups in the fields of higher education (78) and public security (36, including former oil czar and head of internal security Zhou Yongkang and the recently sentenced vice-minister for security Li Dongsheng). One hundred seventy-five of those in the database worked for state-owned enterprises.
- Like Chinese officialdom itself, the database skews heavily male, with only 69 women in total. Just three women, in a pool of 146, are so-called tigers, those whose rank is above or equivalent to that of deputy provincial or deputy ministerial level officials.
- According to data provided by ChinaFile but not yet searchable in the tool above, penalties are harsh, particularly given that most violations are economic (albeit egregious). Two hundred thirty-two individuals have been sentenced under criminal law; of those, 198 have been condemned to at least ten years’ imprisonment. Fifty of those have been sentenced for life (or handed a suspended death sentence, which generally becomes a life sentence), and eight are slated for execution.
- To date, the sentenced individuals in the database, just 232 people, are collectively responsible for having embezzled, stolen, or taken as gifts nearly $1 billion. Figures are pulled from sentencing documents, often easily accessible in official media or on Chinese court websites.
- Sentencing documents often include other lurid details. Yang Yueguo, a relatively minor official in the southern province of Yunnan, purchased $30,000 worth of jade jewelry using public funds. Quan Xiaohui, a municipal official in the central province of Henan, kept three mistresses. And Yan Yongxi, who once presided over Beijing’s rural Mentougou district, tried to hide his embezzled funds in his mistress’ gardening company. In all, the database includes some 67 individuals for whom adultery was listed as an element of their discipline violations.
- Geographically, the cases are spread throughout China; but certain provinces, including Guangdong, Henan, and Shanxi — the stronghold of former president Hu Jintao’s former top aide, Ling Jihua — have seen the highest number targeted, second only Beijing. Fujian and Zhejiang, both provinces Xi once led, appear to have been dealt a lighter hand.
- So far in 2016, the CCDI has announced 17 new investigations, including probes into several local officials, the head of the “clean and honest governance” unit of the prominent Fosun group, whose billionaire chairman was recently detained for questioning, and a deputy director of the Beijing office in charge of Taiwan affairs, whose investigation was announced just days after Taiwan elected a new President whose party favors greater independence from the mainland.
“Catching Tigers and Flies” was built for ChinaFile by Schema, a Seattle-based design firm, and conceived by its Creative Director, Christian Marc Schmidt and ChinaFile’s Director of Visuals, David Barreda. It is built off of a database compiled by ChinaFile interns and editors, and is updated regularly.